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Sacks may be sued

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-08-05

Sir Jonathan Sacks

Sir Jonathan Sacks

United Synagogue Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks may soon find himself in court over defamation in which he has claimed a women convert to Judaism is not Jewish.

In July, the Chief Rabbi gave his decision that he and his Beth Din would not recognise the conversion of Helen Sagal and in turn would not allow her son Guy be allowed to go to the Jews' Free School in north west London.  This was despite the fact that Mrs Sagal was converted under an orthodox authority in Israel in 1990 where she also married her husband Raoul.
 
When her son was born, the Chief Rabbi's organisation also organised for one of its orthodox mohels to arrange her son's circumcision.
 
Supporting Mrs Sagal and her claim, Professor Geoffrey Alderman said:
 
"Having obtained provisional but authoritative legal advice, I can now announce that Mrs Sagal is actively considering instituting legal proceedings, either against Sir Jonathan for alleged defamation [inasmuch as he has denied, in public and in writing, that she is Jewish], and/or against him and/or his Beth Din (or certain members of the Beth Din) in respect of the alleged denial to her of her human rights."
 
Professor Alderman make an application on behalf of Mrs Segal to get information the London Beth Din held on Mrs Segal by invoking the provisions of the Data Protection Act.
 
"On Saturday 30 July, some 41 days after the application, I received a package of materials.  These include notes hand-written by various Dayanim [Judges] relating to the case, and give a unique insight into the motives that led the Beth Din to advise Sir Jonathan to reject the validity of Mrs Sagal’s conversion.  They also include hitherto unpublished correspondence, in Hebrew, between the religious authorities in London and Jerusalem."
 
He added: "I am sorry to say that this material confirms my original suspicion that the Beth Din was determined to find a reason for rejecting the validity of Mrs Sagal’s conversion.  It also casts doubt on the claim made by Sir Jonathan that the religious authorities in Israel had somehow transferred to his Beth Din in London the authority to determine Mrs Sagal’s Jewish status, perhaps with a view to revoking it.  Especially revealing is a letter in Hebrew, marked “Not for Publication” from Dayan Menachem Gelley, of the Beth Din, to the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Amar (14 April 2005) asking that the authority to determine Mrs Sagal’s Jewish status be transferred to the London Beth Din.  No such sanction was in fact ever given."
 
Mrs Sagal is now considering all her legal options.
 
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi refused to comment on the allegations against Sir Jonathan.
 
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